My wife and I recently moved to a new area (I'll keep that secret) and started searching for a new church to call home. We are Baptists by training and theology and so we began a search of the churches professing to carry on the century-old traditions of the Baptists. We are in the south so there is no shortage of Baptist churches to choose from and we decided to take a look at 4 or 5 of them to see if we could find a "fit", so to speak. As we attended both small and large churches, what we discovered is frightening and saddening.
The Coliseum-type church that is apparently the model for large churches is void of any sense of holiness and is more representative of an airport terminal or sports arena than a church. I'm not saying that a church has to have a steeple and stained glass to be a church - though that doesn't hurt - but there should be some indication when you walk through the doors that you've entered a church. When you enter the typical "arena" church today you are met by a score of personnel behind a counter offering books, tapes, coffee, snacks, information, and maybe even a church bulletin. It's all very busy and professional looking, but does not help to prepare ones heart to meet God in corporate worship.
As you enter the arena the first thing you usually notice is that you are on a basketball court, because the worship area is also the family life area and that's where the youth play basketball. I can't remember the last time I thought about basketball while I was praying to the Lord. Getting over the shock that the New York Knicks may come out of the side door at any minute, you will notice the large stage area, usually replete with loads of band equipment but sans any pulpit. If you're lucky, there may be a music stand that the pastor/speaker will use to hold his notes (or perhaps the program for the basketball game to follow).
Of course, there's the usual plethora of audio-visual equipment, television cameras to make sure that anyone who couldn't make it to the show can stay at home and view it live in HD, and tech people running around trying to make sure the show goes off as planned. I know I sound cynical, but the truth is, I don't know any other way to sound. Is this what church in the West has come down to?
Sadly, as we attended the smaller churches hoping to find the building where God was locked away and being kept for private viewing only, we only found more of the same, and poorly done. Most of the small churches, wanting to look professional like their bigger brothers, were doing everything they could to be or at least look high tech. Television cameras, big screen TV's, band on the stage, etc. Occasionally we were fortunate enough to find a pulpit in these small churches, but I'm sure they'll get rid of those as soon as they discover that pulpits aren't cool.
What's my point? Church used to be a place you went to worship God with your neighbors. It was a holy atmosphere because the whole purpose of being in that building was to worship God. The church in America has lost the sense of awe for God and he is just one of the many players needed to pull off a successful show on Sunday morning. It is very sad.